By: Aleli Balagtas
NEON and Metro Blooms started working together in 2016 as partners providing growth opportunities for businesses seeking to enter the field of landscaping.
“Metro Blooms has been our champion – familiarizing us with landscaping techniques and walking us through the process of how to do it,” says Sheltonn Johnson, Project Manager of NEON Property Maintenance (social enterprise).
The first project between two organizations was a clean water and environmental justice project to install bioswales in Minneapolis’ Harrison neighborhood. NEON crews helped excavate the raised, hard-packed boulevards where ash trees had been removed due to the emerald ash borer. NEON Property Maintenance participants also helped install bioswales, shallow depressions planted with deep-rooted, mostly native plants, to divert and soak in stormwater, preventing runoff, one of the main causes of water pollution.
“Getting into the marketplace is a common roadblock for many small businesses”, observes Stephen Obayuwana, NEON’s director of Business Advising and Capital Funds. “NEON is working to fill this gap”. The objective is for the businesses (also contractors); to gain experience and training and to make contacts, so that eventually they can complete procurement contracts independently. In the future, Obayuwana foresees these businesses coming back to provide mentorship to others desiring to follow a similar path. “It’s an ecosystem that we want to create,” says Obayuwana.
NEON has supported projects for Metro Blooms ranging from basic maintenance to larger landscape renovations. While many of the participants come with lawncare or some landscaping experience, most are new to raingardens and other green landscaping practices.
Johnson, who supervises on site, says he and the crews learn a lot by working hands on with Metro Blooms staff. Some crew members have also participated in Metro Blooms’ sustainable landcare training to gain expertise in weed and native plant identification.
The goal is to provide program participants with training and knowledge that can help them market their own services independently in the future as sustainable business owners.